Julien Denoel is the co-founder of BODYSWAPS, an immersive learning platform that leverages VR and AI simulations for soft skills training. Dan is responsible for taking the product to the next level. It works by putting employees in realistic workplace scenarios where they can interact with Virtual Humans and adopt new perspectives to learn about and improve their own behavior.
1. How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
We have been producing VR content for the past 5 years and using VR for training for the past 2 years.
The idea of BODYSWAPS came from reading academic papers demonstrating the long lasting behavioral impact of Virtual Reality. In particular the work done at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab and at the University of Barcelona where numerous experiences have shown how virtual embodiment can for example reduce implicit racism bias, decrease self-criticism amongst depressive patients or improve cognitive performance of people with low confidence.
This has inspired us to bring the learnings of this research into what we are doing, and in particular into corporate training.
2. What’s your company’s vision?
Our mission is to deliver effective behavioral training at scale.
We aim to empower employees around the world to become the best versions of themselves, faster, and without harming anyone else in the process.
With the digitisation of the ‘World of Work’ and the acceleration of automation and AI, the value of soft skills as a professional currency is soaring. This creates a mission-critical need for large organisations to reskill or upskill vast portions of their workforce to thrive, or in some cases survive, in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Yet, e-learning formats are not adapted to soft skills training as it requires practice, and deploying roleplay-based coaching at scale is costly and impractical. That’s where VR & AI come in. We use them to bridge that gap and eliminate the distance between theory and practice.
3. What is unique about your business?
Unlike other similar solutions, BODYSWAPS lets users interact with virtual humans using their own voice and body-language, allows them to swap body to see and hear themselves back, and offers AI-powered behavioral analytics.
The platform’s unique perspective-taking learning format and automated personalised feedback are specifically designed to speed up behavioral change and reduce time to competency, which in turn drives improved operational performance and fosters a better company culture.
This enables us to provide Learning & Development departments with an affordable, scalable and trackable solution to deliver effective soft skills training at scale.
4. What is your biggest achievement so far?
What we’re most proud of is probably the Safeguarding VR training module we are currently releasing with the Humanitarian Leadership Academy.
It uses the BODYSWAPS learning format to transform safeguarding-related behavior among aid workers and volunteers by providing NGO staff with safe space to practice conversations with survivors of exploitation and abuse, which can be quite challenging.
The solution is receiving support from a consortium of 30+ leading NGOs including Save The Children and Warchild and we are proud to help building that tool and provide an impactful and cost-efficient answer to the challenge of delivering behavioral change at scale, which is a mission-critical challenge the NGO sector needs to solve to keep protecting the population it cares for.
5. How do you see your company in 10 years?
So much can happen in 10 years, in particular in such a rapidly-changing industry. There is a scenario that says that we will be fully integrated into a leading learning or consulting company’s offering. And another that we might still be independent and running a successful self-directed learning platform, helping thousands, or even millions of humans unlock their full potential.
6. What are you like as an employer?
I think – I hope – that we’re a pretty good company to work for. We have a rather horizontal structure and we tend to have a culture that answers people’s aspirations and ambitions in today’s world: autonomy, flexibility, purpose and growth.
Company culture is crucial, especially in a place like Shoreditch, London which is bursting with attractive companies and with talents that care a lot about the culture of the company and team they are going to join.
7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the XR industry? How do you deal with them?
Large scale deployment is still a massive challenge due to hardware constraints and technology adoption. Even in B2B. It is still not easy to get people to regularly put a headset on themselves.
We deal with that by running small to mid-scale pilots with our clients, where we run facilitated events aimed at getting people to familiarise themselves with the tech and making it easy for them to use it. We also organise “train the trainer” workshops where we train L&D managers or coaches to run facilitated events themselves.
8. How do you handle adversity and doubt?
Good question. Through consistency, persistence and resilience, I guess. I’m still not sure there is any other way.
9. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in VR/AR, what would it be?
The XR industry is full of opportunities, so I’d definitely encourage anyone to get involved. But it’s still early, and there is still so much to explore. One thing I’d recommend perhaps is to focus on one area where the tech would add value. Dissect the industries you know best and find out what challenge VR/AR can help solve. I might be biased by my own choices but, having experienced both, I’d recommend going product instead of content.
10. What is one habit you wish you could break?
Not taking care of my own health enough. Although I’ve been lucky to never have had any serious health issue, I am not doing much to stay healthy. So I guess that’s more of a habit to create than one to break.
11. What does creativity mean to you?
It is still at the heart of what we do. I don’t consider myself to be particularly creative but I am lucky to work in probably one of the most creative hubs globally, and I have been surrounding myself with people who are.
12. What book has inspired you the most?
Although I enjoy reading novels by the pool, I mostly read about business, geopolitics and current affairs, either essays or leading figures’ biographies. I loved Noam Chomsky’s documentary “Requiem for the American Dream” and I’ve just started his latest book “Who rules the world?”. Fun, right?
13. What do you do when you’re not at work?
I spend most of my free time with my family. I have a wonderful wife (even though she’d tell you we’re not – yet – married) and a 3yo daughter whom I love to see grow.
Obviously, living in London, I enjoy the vibrant cultural scene and I’m yet to try 5% of all the restaurants I said I’d go to!
14. Who do you see as an inspiration in the industry?
I don’t think there is anyone impersonating the industry just yet, but that makes me think of a LinkedIn post I made recently about the MIT Wearable Computing Group (google it and look at images!), aka The Fathers of Wearable Technology. These guys were true pioneers and some of them are still around, leading the development of AR/MR technology!